The context

Generally, small groups of like-minded civil society organisations worked together as partner organisations to form so-called strategic partnerships to prepare a programme proposal. Ten of our MDF consultants supported their planning to enable timely submission, facilitated the development of powerful Theories of Change (ToC) and commented upon important proposal components like the track record, the organisational capacity assessment and the vision of collaboration.

Theory of Change session


Strong ToCs grow overtime

We facilitated face-to-face ToC workshops at an early stage, some even before the government published the call for proposals for the different instruments.

We observed that the ToCs, which we finally submitted in the proposals, were very different from the ones initially developed. We learned that it was worthwhile to start early, since good ToCs grow overtime. While these ToCs were gradually improving, partner organisations in each strategic partnership increased their joint understanding and built valuable trust.


Powerful visuals

We also saw the value of a professional visual designer. We closely worked together with Saskia Brand from Lotus Illustrations, to develop visualisations of the envisioned change process. Seeing their pathways of change visualised, incited the partner organisations to seriously (re)-debate each element. This created a level of additional clarity required to produce a fully owned and powerful ToC. We found this process extremely useful, since you cannot visualise what you do not understand sufficiently.


Addressing blind spots

We observed how difficult it is to provide a real answer to each question in the different tender documents. In addition, we kept the proposal assessment criteria close by all the time to address every single one of them properly.
This may sound incredibly obvious, but we had to flag this often because in practice it appeared quite difficult. We noticed that elaborate and well-documented answers on the questions in the Organisational Risk and Integrity Assessment (ORIA; to demonstrate your organisational capacity) often missed the essential ‘yes’ on the question or answered only half of it. In addition, organisations did not always address all assessment criteria in detail for the different proposal components (like in the Theory of Change, the Track Record and the Vision of Collaboration). Having an independent reader with sufficient distance greatly helps to address these blind spots systematically.


Online proposal development

Beyond any doubt, our face-to-face workshops contributed to the design of sound proposals, with strong partnerships and full ownership.
However, since we were working with partners from all over the world, a considerable part of the work was organised online. We jointly decided on the online tools to ensure active participation. We used virtual whiteboards and breakout groups to create workshop settings online and work together on ToCs, track record cases, and vision documents. We learned that the entire proposal writing process can also be organised fully online, if, face-to-face meetings are not an option. Visit our online services page for more information.